Grants to boost rural HIT workforce, improve care for vets

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has announced grants of nearly $5.3 million to expand the health IT workforce in rural areas and to improve mental health services for veterans in rural areas.

Organizations such as community colleges working with local providers in 15 states will receive nearly $4.4 million to recruit and train workers, providing not only electronic health record technology certifications, but also apprenticeships and job opportunities.

"This investment is designed to attract, train and retain HIT specialists who might otherwise seek education and job opportunities away from their own rural communities where their skills are greatly needed," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an announcement.

In addition, Maine, Montana, and Alaska will receive $300,000 each to improve services to veterans in remote areas. The grants are designed to help providers coordinate care wirelessly and online to detect and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and other injuries.

The grants are part of an ongoing collaboration between HHS and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has greatly expanded its use of telehealth, particularly in the area of mental health. Just this week it announced that it's researching how to use natural language processing with EHRs to identify and send automated alerts to providers treating patients at risk of suicide.

And a bill introduced in the House this week would clear the way for Medicare providers to treat patients electronically across state lines without having to be licensed in each state.

However, the critical access hospitals (CAHs) involved in the workforce grants could be threated if HHS follows through with recommendations from its Office of Inspector General urging that certification of CAHs be re-evaluated. Under that proposal, nearly two-thirds of the existing CAHs would lose that designation.

Sixty rural Texas hospitals could close if that re-certification is carried out, the Texas Tribune reported recently.

To learn more:
- read the announcement

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